You’d be forgiven for thinking that GORE-TEX, the legendary waterproof fabric, has been present in streetwear for less than a hot minute. Before Virgil Abloh brought it to the runway in his FW18 OFF-WHITE menswear show, a lot of people probably hadn’t realized that the innovative, breathable material had been part of the streetwear scene for more than a decade.
Invented in the late ’60s by father and son team Bill and Bob Gore in Newark, Delaware, GORE-TEX has become a staple component in the wardrobes of sensible dads everywhere, keeping the old man’s outdoor jackets and hiking boots dry. It was long synonymous with the unsightly — practicality over style — but as consumers of all ages became more practical with their purchases, the GORE-TEX logo gained an unlikely “cool” status.
This leaves us with a burgeoning back catalog of cool GORE-TEX pieces that we previously — perhaps criminally — didn’t give enough shine to. And thanks to high-profile co-signs, these days GORE-TEX couldn’t be cooler. So we’re now scouring the archives to find pieces from the last 15 years that fans and collectors are desperate to get their hands on.
Past GORE-TEX pieces are much more subtle with their brand logos than those we’re exposed to today. “I remember when brands would try to keep the official branding off of their jackets, [limiting it to] the small embroidery at the cuff or the woven tabs,” Jörg Haas, founder of creative agency BEINGHUNTED. (which is behind GORE-TEX’s biggest collaborations), tells us. “There was a strict policy from GORE that brands had to include such branding — but some circumvented this.”
Today, however, it’s not unusual for brands to be much happier flaunting their cooperation. GORE-TEX has become a cool brand to collaborate with — just look at the way OFF-WHITE is presenting it. Right now, one of the brightly colored cross-body bags that OFF-WHITE handed out at its FW18 show in Paris, complete with GORE-TEX branding and iconic zip tag motif, will set you back a cool $290 on Grailed. Thanks to its sheer exclusivity, it has earned a coveted spot among the brand’s must-have streetwear link-ups.
But if you’re looking for the truly sought-after pieces, and have a decent buck to spend, it’s better to go further back. Haas, a longtime GORE-TEX fan from before his time working with the brand, reminisced about his favorite pieces to us. His personal favorite is an original ACRONYM GT-J4 jacket from 2003, a now rare piece made even more special by a personal addition from ACRONYM founder Errolson Hugh. “We spent a lot of nights at his old studio in Munich,” Haas tells us, “and when my jacket came in, he did a custom ‘BGHD.’ velcro cover — [the kind] that can be exchanged for the ACRONYM Sound Forcelock.”
It’s worth mentioning that Errolson was the first fully-fledged streetwear designer to reach out to GORE-TEX directly, back in 2002, a big deal back in the days before functional fashion had been translated into something stylish. “We trusted in Errolson,” Andreas Marmsoler, head of GORE-TEX’s global PR, tells me, “and he proved to be right.”
Another GORE-TEX item that comes a close second to Haas’ ACRONYM number is his camo Sherpa jacket from Tokyo brand WTAPS, a piece that comes complete with two killer tiger-stripe patterns on the arms. Released in 2008, the jacket occasionally shows up on Grailed, and based on previous prices, it’ll set you back around $300.
There are a handful of early adopters that jumped on the GORE-TEX trend before it truly took off. One is visvim. Having studied in Alaska, brand founder Hiroki Nakamura was no stranger to all-weather environments, so it makes sense that he wound up creating exceedingly cool streetwear with a practical element.
visvim is, of course, part of Haas’ wardrobe, too. His personal standout pieces from the brand include a navy GORE-TEX-lined Commodore duffle coat, made in collaboration with Harris Tweed for FW06. Another piece Haas mentions — one he considers “exceptional” — is the brand’s Valdez down “Corduroy” jacket with GORE-TEX lining. A vegan’s worst nightmare, it’s stuffed with down feathers, features deer suede accents on the pockets, and comes with a coyote fur hood. Sure, it might not be the most nature-friendly item in your wardrobe, but it looks slick and is the kind of piece that’s designed to last you a lifetime.
When it comes to GORE-TEX, no man knows the brand’s long-standing relationship with streetwear better than Instagram’s Joey Ones. Every day Ones allows his near-12,000 followers a peep into a wardrobe crammed with rare GORE-TEX pieces, including an intimidatingly big collection of The North Face. So what piece does he hold closest to his heart? “It’s no secret,” he says. “It can be seen all over my Insta!”
The piece he’s referring to is a vintage The North Face Mountain Light jacket in a bumblebee-like yellow and black colorway. He fell in love with the timeless jacket when it appeared in the Channel Live music video for “Mad Izm” back in 1995. Seeing it back then “did it for me,” he says.
Despite being one of the most visible collectors of The North Face and GORE-TEX archive items, there remain a couple of pieces Joey wants to add to his collection. Both of them, he claims, are hard to come by because of their age, but if you keep an eye on eBay and Grailed, you might just get lucky. First up, a classic Mountain Light pullover from The North Face in a rare forest green colorway. “Pullovers are so cool,” Ones chimes in. “I used to own a black ice one in my early years and fell in love with the design.”
Joey’s next recommendation “is a hype piece when it comes to The North Face.” It’s the anorak The North Face and GORE-TEX created for the legendary 1990 Trans-Antarctica Expedition, complete with ABC Sports sponsorship patch. In the past, the anorak has sold on eBay for $2,750, so it’s not cheap, but it does have a cool place in history. Ones particularly wants to find the ultra-rare purple colorway. “The colors pop,” he says. “Almost anybody who’s into vintage gear or streetwear knows of it. They may not know about Will Steger and his crew of scientists, but they all know that [jacket]!”
These might be the most sought-after pieces in the GORE-TEX archives now, but which items will we be fighting over in future? If the current state of fashion is anything to go by, they’ll be more expensive and targeted at luxury consumers. GORE-TEX is notoriously tight-lipped about what it has in the pipeline, testimony to the fact it only tends to work with the most hyped brands around. But with Virgil Abloh making his transition from streetwear god to couturier king at Louis Vuitton, and GORE-TEX linking up with brands such as Prada and Junya Watanabe, might the ultimate tech fabric be transitioning into luxury fashion more often from now on?
With consumer consciousness and resale value shaping this generation’s buying habits, don’t be surprised if one of LVMH’s hottest brands forges a relationship with the maker of a material that consumers have long associated with frumpy, functional outdoor wear. After all, this is a fashion era rooted in subversion and reinvention, and few brands have had a journey quite like GORE-TEX.
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